I don't want to rehash the nitty-gritty details of the fiery "Should designers code?" brouhaha because it's mostly irrelevant, marginally an issue of semantics, and entirely the wrong question. Some designers code and others don’t — the world of design is so large there is room for a veritable rainbow of designers. I do, however, want to talk about the danger of reifying designers-who-code as chimeras and the corollary that the act of coding is a magical, mystical, unattainable endeavor.
If you've ever seen a concept map diagramming the territory of user experience (Dan Saffer, Jesse James Garret, et al.) then you know the purview of design is, to put it mildly, nebulous. And while it's true that neither Dan nor Jesse's graph includes code, Jesse explicitly states his model is incomplete and doesn't include development practices while Dan's could potentially include code in several areas of overlapping disciplines. Either way, it's not difficult to imagine how these diagrams could and would include code.
And why wouldn't it? Code — loosely and intentionally defined as writing software for the purpose of learning, prototyping, creating art, or working professionally — is a tool for thinking and exploration. It's a way of understanding the system by using the system to build the system on any number of micro and macro levels. As Jennifer Tidwell points out, there are "enduring concepts behind software creation" that transcend any given language, environment, or ecosystem. It doesn't matter where you start or what your focus, code is a way of encountering, understanding, and interacting with these concepts.
The world of journalism is grappling with the same questions when it comes to the role of code, and while journalists and designers share similar rhetoric, efforts are underway at journalism schools to teach students everything from statistics to interaction design to programming. The intent isn't to transform journalists into a legion of expert programmers, but to teach and create a baseline of digital literacy. As Robert Hernandez puts it:
— Those required courses in journalism school are there for a reason
To me this feels like the right framing of the issue. By acknowledging that not everyone will or should code professionally while simultaneously demystifying the mechanisms underlying the primary communication platform of the 21st century, code becomes contextualized and approachable. Most of us aren't professional writers either, but it's widely accepted that practicing the art of writing is a Good Thing because it helps you think and communicate ideas. Just like the art of coding.
Designers — say no to unicorns.